Formative assessment. How do teachers know their students are learning?

Formative assessment. How do teachers know their students are learning?

The short answer is, of course, that they don't. Not unless they get effective, structured feedback from their students. This is where 'formative assessment' comes in.

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, in their seminal work, 'Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment' define formative assessment as encompassing: "all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged."

Professor Dylan Wiliam is widely regarded as the UK's leading expert on formative assessment. He believes: "The greatest impact on learning is the daily lived experiences of students in classrooms, and that is determined much more by how teachers teach than by what they teach." He points to a wide variety of methods that teachers may use to evaluate student understanding, learning needs and academic progress during a lesson, unit or course.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments can help teachers identify concepts that students are struggling to understand, skills they are having difficulty acquiring or learning standards they have not yet achieved so that adjustments can be made to lessons, instructional techniques and academic support.

The goal is to collect detailed information; a continuous process, that can be used to improve instruction and student learning while it's happening. Not only is the aim of formative assessment to improve student learning but used effectively, it can also support teachers' own development and the quality of their teaching.

So, it's not about grades. It's about what guides teachers' instruction. It's what teachers learn about from their students and what they learn about themselves. And it helps guide them towards what to do next.

5 key formative assessment strategies ...

William summarises 5 key strategies of formative assessment:

  1. Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success.
  2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning.
  3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward.
  4. Activating learners as instructional resources for one another.
  5. Activating learners as the owners of their own learning.

Check out this additional reading ...

Embedded formative assessment Dylan Wiliam (2011)

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